Indiana Album: Jennie Devoe – “Strange Sunshine”

jenniedevoe_strangesunshineThere is a mystery solved upon hearing the new album “Strange Sunshine” from Indianapolis’ Jennie Devoe. From the title cut’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” echoes of the opener to the weary-but-powerful “All This Love” that closes Devoe’s new album, she takes leaps of tempo and the occasional genre, but never loses the listener. We take the trip – and do because her voice is so damn expressive. Makes you want to hold her hand and just listen to her sing.

It is the voice – the soulful, raspy, yet sing-like-a-bird voice – which Devoe and producer John Parish (Tracy Chapman, PJ Harvey, and Devoe’s 2004 album “Fireworks and Karate Supplies”) smartly push up in the mix. She’s a tough. She’s introspective. She’s tells her version on the truth.

They fill the remaining space (but not all of it – this isn’t a too-much-is-better record) with grooves that rock, gospel where necessary and some dirty blues.

Devoe and Parish have succeeded in creating a record that touches on influences, but never falls completely into what I call the “Lenny Kravitz Abyss”. That’s when an artist makes a pretty good record but listeners can’t stop hearing the songs and artists that were the main influences for the album. Early Lenny records were really pretty good, but so derivative it hurt him, at least until his third or fourth record and we realized “Oh. OK. That’s Lenny”.

But “Strange Sunshine” plays it right, giving us familiar notes and chords and ooh’s and aah’s that hit the gut, reminding us of how the best music is made – honoring the past while pushing sounds forward. The mix of Jennie’s soul and voice blends with music bubbling with an undercurrent of an unpretentious musical history.

Drummer John Wittman rides Ringo-solid with more swing, while Greg McQuirk’s Hammond B3 , Wurlitzer and piano playing is a constant thrill. His interplay with the guitars of Paul Holdman and Parish dives into the musical white space and subtly colors it with sounds of confidence and flexibilty. Church sounds. Stax sounds. Motown sounds.

The bass-and-drums of “Exit 229” make you want to swing your hips, as background “whoo-whoo’s” and handclaps support Devoe’s tale of the good that can come from driving all night. “Butterfly” (the first single) is slice of AAA/Americana pop that has Jennie gradually pushing her voice harder, and grabbing the song’s great sugary hook when it hits the chorus.

“Nobody Love You” is a retro lounge sound, circa 1940, all piano and Amy Winehouse, minus the sloppiness, heroin and makeup. It fades into the blues of “Shoulda Stayed” and the stark acoustic guitar and Hammond B3 opening of the hymn “I Break Down”. It burns. Amen.

Devoe wrote or co-wrote all but one of the songs on the album, with the Etheridge-like “Foolproof” contributed by another strong female artist, blues and rock guitarist Shannon Curfman.

Sure, I want to like music that is made locally (even if they went to Bath, England to record the record, like Devoe did for this one). And yeah, I have been fooled by a record and the first couple listens I take.

There is no fooling on “Strange Sunshine” – Jennie Devoe has made her best record ever. No mystery why. It is smart and playful, the past mixing with the now, the dirt grandly mixing with the shiny. And it is the sound of Devoe’s voice that makes it all come together.

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Indiana Music: Gamblin’ Christmas

The opening track of the Gamblin’ Christmas album “Alaska” earned its way onto my list of favorite discoveries of last year – “Blue Lights” a piece of Americana that is anthemic, in the way James McMurtry or Joe Ely can drawl and then fire a song into your consciousness.

Make no mistake, the magic possessed by Patrick Flaherty and Kurt Franke – the duo that are Gamblin’ Christmas – is in their harmonies; Cutting, beautiful, unique moments that blend Flaherty’s throaty Texas-influenced foghorn with Franke’s upper-register and distant siren. The two are a little more than a year into a musical reconnection that followed each getting married, the addition of two kids for Patrick and a year-long stint for Kurt in Austin, Texas. But it makes sense for them to be play music together, if for no better reason better than damn good harmonies.

Gamblin’ Christmas brings their Americana/folk/alt-country sound to Bear’s Place in Bloomington on September 4.

Ball State grads, both now living in Indianapolis, are about to commence work on a follow-up to the 2007 release “Alaska”, a minimalist-yet-powerful effort, showcasing their voices above Patrick’s strident acoustic guitar playing and Kurt’s nimble bass guitar.

“We have seven or eight new songs that haven’t been played live or recorded, and another 12 or 13 that we do play that also aren’t recorded,” Flaherty revealed. “We are going to get ready to record another album and have been playing the songs out live. The energy is there.”

Kurt, who has a degree in Music Engineering, adds they are looking for something even more organic this time.

“Interlochen (in Michigan, where they recorded “Alaska”) was amazing, but I want to capture the sound of us in a room where we are very comfortable, rather than a studio,” said Franke. “Its really a struggle balancing a folk approach to performance with classical training in theory and recording, but it is exactly that which keeps me interested”.

The folk approach stems from a mammoth multi-record album of songs they both listened to while in college.

“We both sort of started to take an interest into the ‘Harry Smith Folk Anthology’,” Flaherty said. “It is a collection made in the 1950’s, by someone going all over the country, with a really basic recorder, catching people singing, before they died. Really hardcore folk.”

“When you first listen to the album, it is sort of disorienting, because it is so raw. That kind of music resonated with us.”

It led to playing some Muncie gigs and open mic nights. Sharing a house after college, beginning in 2004, their combined skills and musical strengths began to blossom.

“We were renting a house on Central Avenue and lived together for a year and a half,” Flaherty says. “That it was a time that was amazingly productive, “ Flaherty remembers. “We’d practice and record.”

Eventually, Flaherty got married and moved out, and Kurt and his fiancé (now wife) moved to Austin in late 2006, bringing and hiatus to their partnership.

“My wife and I were expecting a child and we didn’t really want to leave the safety net of family,” Flaherty said. “The plan was for all of us to go down there, and not necessarily relocate. Just to see Austin. It was sort of this mecca. Townes Van Zandt lore. Then when he came back last year, we picked back up again.”

And picking back up meant relearning old songs, writing new songs, and finding that vocal harmonies were still intact.

“I think when the Silver Dollar Family Band (a former four-piece band were both in) was whittled down to Gamblin’ Christmas, we started to realize that our voices sounded really good together.” Franke said. “It has taken a long time to develop the harmonies though, and it was about the time we recorded “Alaska” that it finally all sort of fell into place.

“I think we are worlds beyond that in terms of singing, plus Pat has started to sing harmonies on my songs, which is a huge addition to the sound.”

Steadfast in pushing their own writing and music, their live performance at a recent Sunday night at Melody Inn appearance still mixed in a couple public domain-type covers and one Simon and Garfunkel song (the brilliantly chosen “Duncan”). At that show,. Flaherty, pounding the chords out on his acoustic guitar, frequently grounded his feet twice shoulder-width apart, and bounced his back foot as he sang, sounding equal parts McMurtry, Robert Earl Keen with a bit of Gordon Lightfoot. Kurt leaned in and nudged the songs to a higher place with his high and lonesome harmonies.

“We want to have that vocal chemistry,” Patrick says “The new songs are more mature. More than just relationship gone wrong. More about life. More complicated, with more layers.

“But it’s like the guy who asked Neil Young if he had written the same song at least a 1,000 times. Well, maybe,” Flaherty says. “It’s not like there are a whole new system of rules.”

“I feel like every new song we write keeps getting better and better,” Franke says. “Knowing that the longer we stick with it, the more fun it is, the better it sounds, and hopefully people will feel as strongly about it as we do.”

Video: Bruce Springsteen rarity – “Streets of Fire” live in Italy

Live rarity from the end of Springsteen’s European tour run; “Streets of Fire” (from the Darkness on the Edge of Town album)…always thought the guitar solos were terrific, even if it plodded a little on record. Nils Lofgren is terrific on this, as is Bruce. Sound is superb for an audience video.
Ok. Go Ahead. Click play. Watch for confusion on the left side of the stage before Nils’ solo. And then he goes out and just kills it.

Twang Rock News – Digital albums up for country; Cracker yes, Bruce no for Indy; Pearl Jam song preview

Digital music: Online country album sales grew more than 50 percent in the first half of this year. The country music industry sold 2.35 million digital albums for the year through June 28, a growth of 832,000 units, or about 55 percent, which beat all other popular music genres, according to Nielsen SoundScan said. On the other hand, country CD sales were down 7 percent so far in 2009

springsteen_gtrupNew Springsteen dates announced; No Indianapolis show – Quite a few tour stops in states that Bruce missed –  in Florida, Ohio and Michigan—as well as returns to a few cities, like Chicago, DC, and Philadelphia. There is no Indianapolis date of the calendar, and don’t expect one to be added. His show in March 2008 failed to sell out at Conseco Fieldhouse, as he might have had 13,000 there. His Seeger Sessions tour stop at Verizon Wireless Music Center was a killer show, but they had less than 8,000 there for that show.  Head to St. Louis, Chicago or Detroit if you want to see the band.

There are no West coast dates but the Southeastern U.S. gets shows in Nashville, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, and Greenville in September; to the Midwest in St. Louis and Kansas City in October. In November: Live in New York City, as Bruce and the Band return to Madison Square Garden for a  pair of shows. The run ends November 15 in Milwaukee.  He’s already got number shows at Giants Stadium already sold out.

Upcoming Indianapolis show worth putting on the calendar: longtime alternative country/rockers Cracker with local rootsy pop purveyors Henry French and the Shameless at the Vogue on August 27
New Cracker video:

Pearl Jam has new music online from their upcoming album, Backspacer (out September 20) called “The Fixer.” It’s already a mainstay on AAA, rock and alternative radio.

lylelovettLyle Lovett combines both originals and songs “by some of my favorite Texas singer-songwriters” on his next album, which is due out Oct. 20. “This is a combination of my songs and the approach I took on (1998’s) ‘Step Inside This House,’ ” on which he also covered material by other songwriters he likes.